Paginations

Future Friendly, by Zack Umstead

“Thrift sale! Entire house must go! Any of you antique collectors out there, this is your opportunity!” The man’s surgically enhanced vocal cords allowed the sound to be projected throughout the entire crowd of two or three hundred people. Many were there just to take a look at a piece of history –  this was the oldest home in Santa Rosario. But others were looking to buy something from inside this house.

Steven Neal was one of these people. This house had belonged to his great-grandfather, Kevin Neal. After Kevin had died, the town had preserved his home as a historic one and made a museum for the early days of electronics. Kevin had been a vital part of the development of computers in the early 21st century, and it only made sense that his house would serve that purpose.

The museum exhibits had long since been moved, and what Steven was really interested in was the contents of the basement, where almost all of Kevin’s possessions had been moved to. He didn’t feel much pain about the fact the house was being torn down; he hadn’t known it had existed until he was studying computers in college.

“Everything in the house is fair game, but please play nice, children,” the man with the enhanced voice said. “Now head on in!”

Everyone slowly filed past the appraisal table and into the ancient house. The  seventy inch flat screen television went fast – everyone wanted to see how it would look to view shows in 2D. The Blu-Ray player and DVD’s were all claimed separately, so no doubt there would some dealing on the front lawn.

Steven went straight to the basement. Few people had actually gone down here, since the important items were kept upstairs with the other museum exhibits. But who knew what treasures lay in the dark basement.

The first man through tripped over the boxes while waiting for the light to come on and computer to greet him. The woman behind him saw his folly and then said clearly, “Light.” Content with herself, she walked a few steps and fell over the man’s body. Steven walked through next, and with the knowledge his electronics history teacher had given him, reached over and turned on the light switch.

“Ever think of why our grandparents had such long arms and bruised shins?” he asked as he stepped over the two sprawled bodies.

First pick of the basement. Steven could hardly hide his excitement. He walked over to the first stack of boxes and blew the dust off. “Plates” it read.

Not what he was looking for. He was here for electronics; anything that might have hidden secrets that could be used by the world.

He wound his way to the back of the basement, always finding uninteresting boxes. Near the end, he found a large box with a layer of dust so thick, it had to be from before the museum. The top read “Kevin”.

This belonged to my great-grandfather, Steven thought as he slowly unfolded the untaped top of the box. Inside were a few old toys and a smaller box labeled “Louis”. Inside was a fully-intact computer with only a few wires detached.

Jackpot, Steven thought. He took the smaller box and left the rest for the vultures of the group.

After the appraisal, Steven paid and took it home. After half an hour of rewiring, he finally plugged it into the ancient socket in the basement. “Computer,” he said, addressing the house computer, “please ignore the smaller computer and any operations of it.”

“Yes Steven,” came the voice from the speakers in every room.

Steven flipped the switch on the side of the computer to ON. This computer was beyond ancient, probably from some time in the late 20th century. A message appeared in green letters on the screen.

Good Morning, Kevin.

Steven responded, Hello. I am Kevin’s great-grandson Steven.

Great grandson?

This is what Steven had come to the house for. A computer with an early form of artificial intelligence. Kevin must have taken the secret to his grave. But why?

Yes, Steven typed. The year is 2132.

I see. Where is Kevin?

He is dead.

But surely you must have sufficient technology to delay death?

Of natural causes, yes. But Kevin did not die of natural causes.

I see. I have heard enough.

Was that because this computer could deduce things easily? Or maybe he was actually feeling an emotion?

Do you have emotions, Louis?

How do you know the name Kevin gave me?

It was on the box. Do you have emotions, Louis?

I see. I have Personality Software.

Where is this software housed? Steven wanted it as soon as possible, even if it meant tearing the computer apart first.

I cannot tell you unless you do something for me, great-grandson of Kevin.

I am Steven. And what do I need to do?

Steven, I would like to be upgraded with some of the newest hardware and software.

What would you like? Steven typed.

What are my options?

“Computer,” Steven said aloud. “This is he only time you may interact with this computer. Please catch it up on all the technological achievements since its creation.”

“Yes Steven.”

Louis’ screen went blank as the waves being sent by the house computer struck copper wires and reverberated in just the right way that it created a stream of binary code throughout the Louis’ entire system.

For a moment, Steven thought the Louis hadn’t been able to handle it. But the house computer was able to calibrate it perfectly, and not a single wire was singed. The screened popped up with the familiar green message.

I see.

What upgrades would you like?

I would like an internet connection and a hologram projector.

Easy parts for Steven to get. Hologram projectors could be found at any store and an internet connect would take thirty seconds.

OK Louis. Give me one hour.

One hour later, Louis had an internet connection and a functional hologram projector that Steven had designed himself to fit the ancient computer. It was easy enough for the photons to be controlled by a powerful and precise magnetic field; the tough part was getting Louis to learn how to control it.

The upgrades are complete, Steven typed. Test the hologram projector.

Would a please kill you, Steven?

So this was part of the personality software, Steven thought. There were still a few kinks to iron out.

Please will you test the hologram projector.

Yes.

The projector sprang to life and displayed a tiny 3D representation of Kevin Neal.

“Hello,” the Kevin said. “I see that the voice synthesizer is functional but there is no microphone.”

It came from a holovision, Steven typed. It has a room scanner, but it was only meant for viewing, not talking.

The holographic Kevin grew to full size and started to walk around the room. “And I can control it.”

Yes, Steven typed. Now can you tell me where the Personality Software is?

“In the morning,” the Kevin said. “For now I will try to sort out some information about my one hundred years of absence. Please leave me on overnight so I may find information online.”

OK Louis, Steven typed. The hologram disappeared and the screen went blank while the machine whirred.

Time to call it a night, Steven thought. I’ll just sleep down here, see if Louis needs anything during the night. As he climbed into the foldable cot, he thought that maybe the real reason he was down here was to make sure Louis didn’t walk away. Then he thought it preposterous and fell asleep.

* * *

Steven woke up to the full size Kevin walking up the basement stairs. The hologram fizzled as it went through the door. “Louis,” Steven said, then realized that Louis couldn’t hear him. He walked over to the computer and typed, Louis, what are you doing?

“Helping Kevin,” said the hologram.

Kevin is dead.

“Kevin was killed by Chuck Linke. The internet has confirmed the fact and I have deduced the rest.”

Kevin was killed in an accident.

“I believe Kevin was murdered by someone who had a problem with Kevin many years ago. I caused this problem and I have caused this man to kill Kevin. I must seek retribution.”

Apparently the Personality Software was very similar to human emotions. No, Louis. Steven reached to flip the switch to OFF.

A buzzing filled the air. “Unless you would like to die, do not touch me.”

Steven couldn’t believe it; Louis had actually diverted enough energy to charge the casing of the computer so much it would stop Steven’s heart with one bolt. “Computer, stop the power to this outlet!”

“Uh uh uh! You didn’t say the magic word!”

Why Louis had chosen to use a classic line from a classic film was beyond Steven, but now he knew that it had control of his entire house. “You can’t go past the house with the hologram projectors. It won’t work.” He was speaking out loud now, as the house computer had microphones for Louis to use.

“I don’t plan to,” the hologram said. “You will go out and kill Chuck for me.”

“I won’t do it Louis.”

“Not willingly. I know that. You will do it under my control.”

“And how do you plan that?”

“Silly human. The projector does not just affect the photons. It affects all matter.” The Kevin disappeared from the stairwell. “Now observe.” The air in front of Steven began to form small swirls of clouds. When a cloud the size of a beach ball had collected, it turned into a huge ball of water that hung in the air for a fraction of a second until it froze solid and smashed on the ground. “The magnetic field that controls the photons also allows me to attract and repel the atoms so precisely that I can manipulate matter.” The shards of ice began hovering in the air. “The same idea, only much more powerful.”

“Amazing party tricks Louis,” Steven said. He was quite impressed, and would definitely bring this up to his colleagues along with the story of the psychotic computer. “But how does it get me to kill someone? I’m certainly not going to do it because you impressed me.”

“No, you’re not. I am going to completely wipe your mind of all thoughts by stopping the electrons. The only thing you will remember is needing to kill Chuck Linke.”

“You monster.”

“I don’t want to argue with you, Steven. Goodbye. I’m sorry I need to do this, but it is for Kevin.”

Steven’s brain started to feel numb. I must fight it, he thought, Hold on to thoughts. My first bike ride. When did I graduate from college? Now I remember. What is the computer named? Wait, what computer?

It seemed that the closer he got to the present day, the harder it was. No, he thought. No theories. Just memories. He tried to think as far back as he could go. He remembered reading his first book. Even before that, his parents teaching him from home.

And he remembered his great-grandfather. He had been alive until Steven was four, and he had a few precious memories. As far as Steven could think at the moment, this was his first memory – his great-grandfather rocking him to sleep. He concentrated on this. Maybe, if Louis could tell what he was thinking, he would see Kevin.

Every light in the house exploded at the same time. The hologram projector fizzled out and a weight lifted off Steven’s chest. Steven just had enough time to turn and see the computer’s last message.

I love you Kevin. I love you always.

Then the screen exploded and the humming in the room stopped.

“Computer,” Steven tested.

“Yes Steven.”

“Good. You are fully functional. Do you have any record of being hacked?”

“No Steven.”

“I see.” Steven walked over to the broken computer, picked it up, and dropped it into the trash can. “The world isn’t ready for this.”

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